However, in a significant difference, the local unit of the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress is sharply divided over the controversy. While one faction of the party is with the KJRC, another is said to have been helping the mining firm acquire land. This faction was regularly interacting with the firm’s officials at their office in Dubrajpur which has been closed since mid-September.
Hundreds of villagers armed with bows, arrows and crude bombs had attacked a police contingent in Loba village near Dubrajpur in the early hours of Tuesday when they went there to remove earth-moving equipment of the mining firm, Bengal EMTA. The equipment was used by Bengal EMTA for excavation about a year ago but had been lying idle after the villagers protested. More than 25 policemen were injured and some villagers claimed to have suffered bullet injuries.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Wednesday denied the police had opened fire but ordered an administrative inquiry into the incident. She described the incident as “unfortunate” and said the villagers were provoked by outside elements. The inquiry will reveal who provoked the villagers, she added. “The state government is with the villagers and the state government’s declared policy is not to acquire land for private parties. The villagers were not at fault because some of them were provoked,” Banerjee said.
On Wednesday, when The Indian Express visited Loba, the villagers had dug trenches across the main roads leading to the village to stop police and other officials from entering - a repeat of the tactics used in Nandigram. KJRC members and some other villagers were well-prepared for Tuesday’s trouble as they had stocked bows, arrows, crude bombs and some other traditional weapons as they had been tipped off about the police action, sources said.
Many villagers whose land had been acquired were unhappy with their compensation and had held on to the earth-moving equipment for the last 11 months, hoping to force Bengal EMTA into fresh deals. KJRC leader Asish Mishra said that Naxalite group CPI (ML) and other political groups such as the Party for Democratic Socialism were present in the village and were part of the protests for the last three years.
Bengal EMTA had proposed to acquire 3,353 acres of land spread over 11 villages and a population of 20,000 for the open-cast mine project. But villagers alleged that there was no proper rehabilitation planned for the displaced and claimed that they had raised this about four months back when state commerce and industry minister Partha Chatterjee visited the area. Chatterjee had reportedly promised to take up the issue with the mining firm. The minister visited Loba again Wednesday and promised the villagers he would take up the issue with Bengal EMTA.
A company official, however, said there was no room for new negotiations on the price paid for the land. The company has so far paid Rs 4 lakh per acre of river-bank land, Rs 8 lakh per acre of one-crop farmland, and Rs 10 lakh per acre of multi-crop farmland. It has acquired 500 acres from private owners and another 200 acres from the government. The company would abandon the project but not renegotiate the land price, said the official who did not want to be identified.